On Screen

When I got to Learning Way Elementary this morning for my weekly “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” volunteer session, I noticed a pile of equipment, including a couple of tripods, lying outside Ms. Aymett’s classroom. I figured there was something going on and was just about to turn around and ask the office if it would be better for me not to disturb them. Just then, Ms. Aymett popped her head out of the door, about to hang a sign on the door that said “VIDEO SHOOT – DO NOT DISTURB”

“Oh, Mr. Carney!” she squealed. (Regan is a wellspring of enthusiasm.) “Come on in!”

As the Times-Gazette reported a few months back, Regan Aymett has been chosen as an NEA Master Teacher, meaning that they would be shooting video of her in the classroom to be used as a reference by other teachers. That’s what was happening today.

Regan Aymett video lesson

For the particular lesson that was being recorded today, Regan had the kids divided up into pairs. She had me work with one girl who was without a partner (and, perhaps, who needed a little extra encouragement).  There were two people shooting her with video-enabled digital SLRs, along with an audio person using a long boom mike.

The lesson was helping the kids understand what Ms. Aymett referred to as “text features” – things like captions and titles that stand apart from the main body of a composition. The example she was using was some sort of magazine article about the importance of helmets for things like bicycling and horse eventing. (Regan is also a riding teacher!)

The girl with whom I was working was fully on board with the importance of helmets, but had a little trouble understanding that we were looking at the mechanics of the article and not its content. I tried as best I could, but I didn’t have much success getting her attention away from helmets and putting it on captions and headlines.

Still, I tried to at least be patient and encouraging. Ms. Aymett may be a master teacher, but I’m an amateur, a volunteer, and sometimes that’s the best I can hope for.

Mighty casey strikes out

It has not been one of my better weeks.

We started out the week with the revelation that I recently committed to pay $350 for a new computer for no good reason, since my old computer could be easily fixed with a few cents’ worth of heat sink paste. The good news, of course, is that the old computer can now be sold to help offset a little of the new computer’s price. The bad news is that I feel like an idiot for buying the new computer, which I really can’t afford, in the first place.

Then, Thursday night, I had a minor traffic accident which left a three-foot-long dent in the passenger side door of my car and which will no doubt raise my insurance premium.

It was also a quite busy week at work. I took the day off Wednesday, however, to account for the fact that, today, I was supposed to go to Murfreesboro to cover a conference on Baseball in Literature. I had been looking forward to the conference, and my sister-in-law (who is an English professor and a Dodgers fan) was jealous.

I indeed drove to Murfreesboro this morning, only to discover that the conference had taken place on Friday.


The news release, correctly, states that the conference was on “Friday, April 4.” But I also downloaded the conference agenda, and it said “5 April 2014,” and that was what I put into my calendar.

So I drove to Murfreesboro and found that the James Union Building was empty. I got back in my car and came back home, feeling like an idiot for the third time this week. Three strikes, and the week is out.

On the bright side, someone stopped by the apartment just now selling homemade tamales door-to-door. They were wonderful the last time I bought some, and so I happily sprang for another set. I’ll have them for lunch today.

Maybe next week will be better.

I kissed minnie


Last year, I worked the ticket table for the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” show to benefit the American Cancer Society Relay For Life.

For you out-of-towners, this is a Bedford County tradition going back to the mid-1970s: a revue done in the style of the “Hee Haw” TV show, featuring corny humor and some surprisingly-good local musical performers.

Anyway, in recent years the local Relay For Life organizing committee, of which I am a member, had been responsible for “Hee Haw & Howdy”; this year, it’s being done by one of our individual Relay teams, Strength In Numbers, which was basically formed for that purpose. So the committee didn’t actually have to work the show.

I wanted to go, however, because a) it’s a great show and b) I knew this year’s show would honor Harriett Stewart, our former American Cancer Society staff partner, recently retired. (Harriett has been playing Lulu Roman in the show for several years, and did so again this year.) Judi Burton, Relay’s grand poobah, got me a ticket.

I went and thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the show – but it had been a long week, and I was kind of restless. During intermission, cast members mingled with the audience, and I got to speak to Harriett. But I decided to slip out, quietly, rather than going back into the theater for the second act. Let me be clear – it wasn’t the show; I was just restless.

I was at home, wearing pajama bottoms, when Harriett (who had no idea I’d left early) messaged me to say some of the cast was at Casa Mexicana, and did I want to come join them?

Yes, I did, if for no other reason than to see Harriett, who lives in Lebanon and who we won’t get to see as often now. So I got dressed and headed over to the restaurant. I had a wonderful time. I slipped out again, just after midnight. Letha Marlow, who plays Minnie Pearl in the show and was still in costume at the restaurant, said something, and I responded by posing for a photo planting a kiss on her cheek. It’s probably on Facebook by now.

Harriett did not know the show this year would be in her honor, and I was delighted to be there at the beginning of the show when Judi made that announcement and Harriett teared up. They had to keep her from seeing the programs before the show, since they featured her prominently (including a photo of me and Harriett from one of her retirement celebrations a few weeks ago).

Anyway, it was a nice evening, and I’m glad I decided to get back out and join the others at the restaurant.

Back in black

A year and a half ago, when I first started getting the two major mobile providers to send me gadgets to review for the newspaper, I got to try out the FitBit tracker. Their model at the time clipped to your pocket or belt. It tracks steps, of course, but you can get a $5 pedometer at Walmart that will track steps. The FitBit also tracks steps climbed, and you could even wear it on a wristband to track your sleep. It wirelessly transmits your stats to your computer, where you can view all kinds of charts and graphs, and compare your progress with your friends’. It even gives you little badges when you pass certain milestones (such as 10 flights of stairs in a day, or various round numbers of lifetime steps walked).

I loved the FitBit, and wrote a glowing review.

A few months later, in North Carolina, a co-worker of my brother Mike had decided he liked Nike’s new fitness tracker. He offered his FitBit to anyone who wanted it. My brother, remembering my review, took the device and sent it to me. And this is a device that, at the time, cost $100 new. I haven’t checked lately; while FitBit still makes a waistband-based tracker, their hot new model is a wristband.

I loved it. I wore it all summer, and I think it motivated me to be more active.

Then, in August of last year, came the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. I was there the first night (out of 10) to cover the event for the newspaper. I got home that night and realized the FitBit was no longer clipped to my pocket. I had lost it somehwere on those huge grounds – and I had, in search of feature photos, walked all around the grounds.

To the untrained observer, the FitBit would have been nothing but a pinky-shaped piece of black plastic. Unless you’re pushing the button to make the display light up, it doesn’t look like an electronic device. I knew it had probably been swept up and thrown away without a second thought. I had some slight hope that it would turn up, and I looked to see if it was in my car or somewhere in my apartment, but to no avail.

Tonight, after dinner at church, I stopped at the laundromat to get quarters from the change machine so that I could do my laundry here at the apartment complex (we have coin-operated washers and dryers, but no change machine). I stuffed the quarters into my jacket pocket, but when I sat down in my car some of them spilled out. I picked up a couple there and a couple more when I got home.

When I went to do laundry, I realized that – while I had what I needed for the immediate purpose – I did not have all of the quarters I’d pulled from the change machine. I went back to my car and looked a little more closely.

I found one more quarter. I think there’s still one or two more hiding from me.

I did, however, find my FitBit.

I tell you, I thought I had searched the car thoroughly last August. But the FitBit hid from me, wedged in between the driver’s seat and the emergency brake. It’s been there for seven months, all fall and all winter, through subzero temperatures and what have you. But it seems to still work (we’ll know for sure after it’s fully charged).

Fortunately, I did not throw away the charging station / base receiver which the FitBit needs to charge and to download its stats to the computer. I even remembered vaguely where I had stashed it.

This sounds like it ought to be a sermon illustration, perhaps tied in with the parable about the woman finding the lost coin. I’ll have to file it away for that purpose.

ding-a-ling update

I have really enjoyed being a part of the handbell choir at church, although I had a bit of  meltdown after our first performance a few weeks back. (You might have noted that I blogged a lot about the performance in advance but almost nothing after the fact.)

I screwed up that morning. Now, the nature of an all-ages handbell choir is that we still sounded just fine as a group. But I played a wrong note and then was thrown off by it, such that I missed playing any of my next few notes at all.

In the great scheme of things, this was, well, nothing. But I was under a lot of stress at the time, and I think I let it come out in the form of beating myself up, childishly, over having screwed up “Amazing Grace” on the handbells.

I eventually realized how stupid I’d been, and I was looking forward to getting back on the horse. We had started rehearsing a couple of new songs for our next performance.

I found out yesterday the date of that next performance: March 23.

I can’t make it that day; I’m already committed to preach at Goose Pond UMC over in Coffee County, and have been for many weeks.

Fortunately, the new bells that we took delivery of last week made some reorganization possible. Some people had been playing tone chimes instead of bells, and some people only had one bell.  Now, everyone has bells, and everyone has both hands full, even though there’s some duplication. Donna Northcutt is able to play the bells that I’d been playing for this month’s performance. We now have two sets of those bells, so Donna and I were both playing them during practice last night. We were conversing during a lull and Donna realized that she’d worked with my sister Elecia at McDonald’s back when they were both in high school.

I won’t be at practice next Wednesday night – not that I need to be, since I won’t be at the performance – because I’m covering an event in Murfreesboro.

The March 23 performance will likely be our swan song until the fall. The next week will be spring break, and by the time that’s over and done with we’ll be gearing up for Easter, and at some point our Wednesday night meal and activities will shut down until the fall. Dulcie wants us to work on holiday music next fall so we can be a part of the church’s Christmas programming.

I will miss handbell choir during that summer break. I’ve never had much in the way of musical talent, and this has been a fun way of expanding my skill set.

My podcast appearance

Last week, I visited Michael Hansen and my former castmate Brenden Taylor for a taping of their podcast “Finding Christ in Cinema,” which looks for religious allegories and talking points in secular films. My original intent was to interview them for a story, which I did, but they also invited me to sit in as a guest on the podcast, and I did that too. Logrolling? Maybe. But I enjoyed it, and think I got a good story out of it, too.

Being a guest on the podcast was fun — I probably should have leaped into the discussion more often than I did, but I was kind of feeling my way around. I have an invitation to come back some time, and I think I’ll probably be a little more comfortable and a little more vocal whenever I do. It will have to be the right movie, though.

Anyway, my episode can be found here. You can listen to it from that page or click for a little popout player that you can then minimize so that you don’t forget and close it by mistake.

I’ve said here in the past that I’d love to have some sort of podcast. But (except for the short-lived talk show I did on WLIJ some years back) it’s been nearly 30 years since my radio days, and last week reminded me that filling air time is harder than it looks. My experiments, such as the little pilot episode I did in 2011 for a faith-based interview podcast — have also been very low-tech. Michael has a nice home studio, and you can hear it in the quality of the product he produces. I’m not in a position to even pay for hosting right now, much less equipment.

I’ve also never really settled on what I want to do. The more marketable ideas are also more restrictive; what I really want is the freedom to play, but that quickly becomes self-indulgent and not interesting to other people, which sort of defeats the purpose. The podcasts I really enjoy listening to are hosted by comedians or other creative people who have good content, but even when they stray from the content they can make stream-of-consciousness interesting to someone other than themselves. They also have a lot of access to good guests, sidekicks or interview subjects to play off of.

But I can still dream. Maybe one of these days, I’ll come up with a format or premise that I can run with.

My people

One small glitch in the “Raise Your Hand” program in Bedford County is that when your normal host teacher happens not to be there, the substitute may not be expecting you.

This happened to me a few weeks back, and it happened again today. Today, the substitute happened to be a former cast-mate, Keith Wortham. Just a couple of months ago, I was Clarence the Angel to Keith’s razor-sharp George Bailey in the benefit performances of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” We’d worked together a couple of other times prior to that.

If you know anything at all about school kids, you know that their behavior for a substitute teacher is not necessarily their behavior for the regular teacher. Today, when I arrived, five or six of them immediately ran over to me and gave me a big group hug. (“Mr. Carney!!!!”)

“They don’t normally act this way,” I told Keith, embarrassed. I do occasionally get one or two hugs when I’m arriving or leaving, but nothing this disruptive.

I really felt like a disruption, and I sort of wanted to leave and let Keith get back to what he was doing, but once the kids saw me I sort of had to stick around. Keith rolled with the punches and sent half of the kids he was working with over to play a game with me; we did that for half an hour and then swapped groups.

Keith, I hope I wasn’t too much of an imposition. You seemed to be doing a great job, not that you need my recommendation.

Here’s a confession: It was, disruptive or not, nice to get my excited welcome from the kids. I’ve been a little down for a few days, for various and sundry reasons, and that was kind of a pick-me-up.

Ready to ring

Well, even though we missed a practice last week we’re moving ahead with our scheduled performance of the First United Methodist handbell choir this Sunday morning during the 10 a.m. service. I must say, I’m looking forward to it.

We’re going to get together during the Sunday School hour for one last practice.

I wondered if we were going to keep going after this performance, and apparently we are – Dulcie gave us two new pieces of music last night which we’ll start practicing next week. We may even go to one or two of the local nursing homes or another church or something of that sort.

We’ll probably take a break from practicing over the summer (as do many of FUMC’s Wednesday night activities), but Dulcie is already talking about us working on Christmas music next fall and performing over the holidays.

As someone with no real musical talent, I’m excited about this.

Old but not-a-papa john

I ordered Papa John’s Pizza tonight; it was kind of a milestone.

It’s the first time I’ve actually used my AARP membership.

AARP started sending me mailers on the day of my 50th birthday in 2010 (which is kind of scary, when you think about it too hard). I meant to join but never got around to it until a month or so ago. It doesn’t cost much, and you do get the discounts, and the magazine, and what have you.

Yes, I’m a pathetic old person.

The one discount mentioned to me by several out-of-town friends was that if you buy coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts and flash your AARP card, you get a free donut. But there’s no Dunkin’ Donuts in Shelbyville, and I don’t drink coffee.

But if you order online, AARP membership gives you 25 percent off at Papa John’s. That can’t be combined with any other sales or discounts, and in point of fact it’s probably not much cheaper than waiting for a good coupon or simply getting whatever pizza happens to be the current special.

But it’s the principle of the thing.

I ordered the “double cheeseburger pizza” that they’ve been advertising. It’s not bad, but it’s a little strange. (Dill pickles?) I think I may go back to a more traditional pizza next time, assuming I live that long. (Did I mention I’m a pathetic old person?)